More than 400 local and state officials, business leaders and economic developers will gather in Raleigh Tuesday for the second annual Rural Day.
Organized by the non-profit North Carolina Rural Center, the event will focus on promoting economic development in the state's 80 counties with a population density of less than 250 people per square mile.
"We've definitely experienced economic recovery in this state but it's been a very unequal economic recovery with mainly a couple of counties doing far better than the rest of the state," said Patrick Woodie, the Rural Center's president.
In the year since the last Rural Day, Woodie has taken to the road to visit each of the state's 80 rural counties to identify the biggest issues facing these challenged communities.
Top among those challenges is expanding rural access to high-speed internet service.
"We can't educate our citizens today or in the future or have a workforce development system that really functions without the availability of high-speed broadband," Woodie said.
Nor can adequate health care services be delivered. "And," Woodie added, "our small businesses can't grow and thrive and reach markets around the world without the availability of broadband."
Top lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly announced last week the adjusted state budget will include the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology--or GREAT--program.
The incentives program sets aside $10 million in grant money for providers and cooperatives that deliver broadband to under-served areas.
Woodie says another priority for rural North Carolina is promoting investment in entrepreneurial ventures.